Pretty or smart?

Verizon’s viral Inspire Her Mind ad is based on dubious facts and the dubious idea that girliness is the enemy of “pretty brilliant” in math, science and engineering, says Christina Hoff Sommers, the Factual Feminist.

That dad telling his daughter not to handle a starfish may know that 61 percent of marine biology majors are female. Maybe he wants her to consider a unisex field, such as chemistry.

High hopes, long odds

Ninety-five percent of low-income students who take the ACT want to go to college, reports The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: Students from Low-Income Families. That’s higher than the rate for all students who take the ACT. 

However, low-income students (defined as a family income under $36,000) are less likely to take a strong college-prep curriculum in high school. Only 20 percent meet at least three of the four college readiness benchmarks set by ACT.  Only 59 percent of low-income students who take the ACT go directly from high school to college. That compares to 71 percent of all ACT test-takers.

Colleges are using “predictive analytics” to advise high-risk students, writes Libby Nelson on Vox. The goal is to raise “dismal graduation rates.”

Is flunking a course the sign of a bad semester, or the harbinger of much worse to come? Is a student with a 2.3 GPA going to be fine — “C’s get degrees,” after all — or a future dropout in the making?

But what if the numbers show some students have little chance of success?

Studies show teachers expend more time and attention with students they know will succeed; will professors neglect students data shows are likely to fail? States are under pressure to improve their graduation rates; if they can identify the students least likely to graduate, will it be too tempting to shut them out rather than admit them and help them through?

. . .  The American ethos of college-going rests on “if you can dream it, you can become it.” But when we can pinpoint the students least likely to succeed, what will happen to them?

Many students rely on “magical thinking,” writes Nelson. “From kindergarten through high school graduation, students are steeped in a can-do spirit. Believe in yourself. Reach for the stars. Never give up.”

Students will say an F on a midterm “isn’t a real F,” says Linda McMillin, a provost at Susquehanna University. Professors can use data to persuade them to get real.

“Ninety-eight percent of people who got this grade in this class were not able to change it. Tell me how you’re the exception. Let’s get real here, and let’s think about how we move you into another major that really aligns with your strengths and with your passions and gets you through in four years.”

“This is not a tool to highlight to students that they’re in trouble or can’t make it, says John Nicklow, provost at Southern Illinois University. “It’s an awareness tool to make them aware that now’s the time to buckle down.”

Perhaps middle-school and high school counselors should be armed with predictive analytics. The time to get real and buckle down occurs much earlier.

Choice creates ‘the big sort’

Choice has expanded dramatically in Chicago, report Linda Lutton and Brendan Metzger for WBEZ. Most parents choose between an array of district-run and charter high schools.  That’s led to The Big Sort:  High-performing students go to the district’s selective “test-in” high schools,  average students choose schools with other average students and the low performers cluster in very low-performing schools.

Here an interactive chart.

Many of the district-run new and specialty schools are allowed to screen out low achievers. Charters can’t do that, but the application process can discourage unmotivated parents. Noble, the city’s largest charter network, has agreed to let parents submit applications without attending information sessions and to make it clear that submitting an essay is optional.

In tough neighborhoods, the weakest students and those with the least savvy parents end up in comprehensive high schools.

Middle-class students and high performers have been avoiding some Chicago high schools for decades, concede Lutton and Metzger.  Students know which schools are for which students.

“If you get straight As and you do really good on testing, the school you’ll probably get accepted into is Northside, Walter Payton, Whitney Young,” says (Lane Tech) freshman Amber Hunt.

What about the B students? “Schools with IB programs sometimes take solid Bs,” says Amber. “Charter schools are kind of like if you’re average, or slightly below average.”

Students who do poorly in grammar school go to neighborhood schools, students say.

Lane Tech students enjoy attending school with high achievers. “It raises the standards a lot,” says freshman Paradise Cosey. Another freshman says this is the first year since fifth grade that classmates haven’t asked to copy her work.

(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)
Kadeesha Williams wanted to go to Marine Military Academy, where 48 percent of ninth graders score above average. She ended up at Marshall, where 14 percent come in above the district’s average.

 

WBEZ also looks at Marshall Metropolitan High School, where 86 percent of ninth graders score below the district average. Some can’t read.

Kadeesha Williams, who’ll be a sophomore in the fall, wanted to go to Marine Military Academy, a district-run school nearby, “but my mom, she lost the paperwork.” Her mother claims the school lost Kadeesha’s test scores.

Kadeesha likes Marshall because the teachers are so helpful. The school is focused on helping struggling students.

But for many students Marshall is “a school of last resort,” says teacher James Dorrell. “They try to enroll in charter schools or selective enrollments, and once they can’t get in, they would come here.”

Dorrell says after a re-staffing and infusion of money in 2010, Marshall is hugely improved. . . . Freshmen have double periods of English and math. Many take reading — a subject other high schools don’t even offer.

But test scores remain low and more students drop out than earn a diploma.

What works for small high schools

Personalization, high expectations and dedicated, flexible teachers are essential to the success of New York City’s most effective small high schools, report NYU’s Research Alliance.

“Small schools of choice” (SSCs) have improved graduation rates, according to previous research.

School themes, such as law, the environment or sports careers, didn’t play a factor in success, the study concluded. Some students were attracted to the theme, but “it can be a turnoff to others who wind up in the school because of the whims of the high school placement process,” notes SchoolBook.

Many of the success strategies can be used in schools of any size, researchers said.

Downsizing hits community colleges

After the recession spiked enrollment and funding, community colleges are cutting courses and faculty in response to declining enrollment.

‘College for all’ includes job training

College is the path to a good job, but that includes going to community college to train for skilled blue-collar jobs that offer a path to the middle class.

Test: Which cell plan is best?

PBS NewsHour looks at an international exam that asks students to apply their reading, math and science skills to real-life situations, reports John Merrow. “For example, they may be asked to analyze different cell phone plans to figure out which is the best deal.”

How many adults could do that?

Learning to reflect, but not to teach

Ed schools are big on reflection, but don’t teach prospective teachers how to teach, complains Peter Sipe, a Boston middle school teacher, in the Boston Herald.

While he went to ed school, his wife was in medical school. She learned how to be a doctor. He reflected.

. . . a professor would speak for a bit on some theoretical matter, then we’d break into small groups to discuss it for an extravagantly long time, then we’d get back into a big group and share our opinions some more. I remember a class one evening in which you could not speak unless you had been tossed an inflatable ball. My wife’s classes did not go like this.

The state certification exams to become a teacher “were parlor games” compared to the medical board exams his wife had to pass.

In education school he was encouraged to be a “reflective practitioner,” but got little practical training in “how to do anything.”

Pilots aren’t trained by forming small groups to discuss the atmosphere. Cadets don’t become cops by writing weekly responses to Crime and Punishment.

. . . The logic was, I believe, that we would receive our practical training on the job. And I guess I did. But it was rather in the manner one would learn by being told to find the manual after the starboard engines quit.

After 14 years as a teacher, he wishes he’d learned how to teach students to read well and “what to do when they can’t.”

But hell, I’d have settled for learning how to take attendance, or collect papers, or manage a fire drill properly.

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, only a third of ed schools “do an adequate job in reading instruction, around one in five do so in math, and under 10 percent do well in both simultaneously,” writes Sipe.

‘Good apples’ need tenure

Teacher tenure is for good apples too, writes Arthur Goldstein in the New York Daily News.

A career-switching friend lost his teaching job after asking why his special-ed students weren’t getting the help they’d been promised, writes Goldstein. He didn’t have tenure.

Without tenure, I’d probably be in Harry’s place. I teach English as a second language, usually to beginners, at Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, Queens.

One year, I had two students who spoke English but couldn’t read or write. One had been kicking around city schools for years.

He had a strategy for pushy teachers like me. He listened intently and participated orally as much as possible. But when I sat him down and wrote words like “mother” and “house,” he could not decode them at all. I contacted his mother, who knew of his problem. I sought help in the building.

Around this time, I read an article in the paper about ESL. I called the writer to comment. The story of my illiterate students came up, and he asked me if he could write about it. I wasn’t sure. He asked me whether I had tenure. I told him I did; he said it shouldn’t be a problem.

After the writer asked the city Education Department about my two students, I was immediately summoned into the principal’s office. He heartily condemned my ingratitude.

He was “scrutinized constantly,” but couldn’t be fired, writes Goldstein, a union chapter leader.

Teaching “entails advocating for our students, your kids, whether or not the administration is comfortable with it,” he writes. Without tenure, teachers who stand up for their students will take a huge risk.

Only the bad apples need tenure, responds RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.  “It’s admirable that Goldstein looks out for the kids in his care,” but “he is already covered under New York State’s civil service law, which provides rather reasonable protections against unfair dismissals.”

Charters are #1 choice in Newark

Now that Newark parents fill out a single application to district and charter schools, a majority of K-8 students ranked charters as their first choice, reports the Wall Street Journal. Eight of the 10 most-requested schools are charters. Only 45 percent of students got their first-choice school.

In the fall, district schools expect to enroll 34,800 students while charters will take 12,200. District officials predict that 40 percent of public students will attend charters by 2016.

In addition to Newark, Denver, New Orleans and Washington D.C. are experimenting with universal enrollment. Parents fill out one form, ranking their preferences.

In Newark, children with special needs and free-lunch status are are more likely to get their first choice “if such high-needs students were underrepresented in a school’s applicant pool.”